The arrogant contempt in which democracy is held by many of Australia's political and business leaders and much of the newsmedia could not have been made more clear by the determination of the New South Wales Government of Morris Iemma to proceed with its plans to sell off publicly owned electricity assets. This is being done against undertakings made to the union movement immediately prior to the 2007 state elections#main-fn1">1 and in the face of uproar from the NSW public two thirds of whom oppose privatisation#main-fn2">2.
Last Saturday, 4 May, the conference of the NSW Labor Party reaffirmed its opposition to privatisation with a resounding 702 votes to 107. Just like Iemma's previously aborted plan to flog off the NSW government's stake in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme, privatisation of electricity has never been put to the people of NSW in an election. Indeed, only in 1999, the Labor Party won a resounding election victory against the Coalition which promised to fully privatise electricity. Ironically, then Labor Premier Bob Carr had previously tried to privatise electricity as Iemma is doing now, but had backed down following the repudiation of the policy by the 1997 NSW Labor Party state conference and subsequently by the NSW trade union movement.#main-fn3">3. Carr and the Labor Party campaigned on a platform precisely against the policy that Carr had previously tried to impose on the Labor Party and won. Following its defeat the NSW Liberal Party accepted the repudiation of privatisation by the NSW electorate and dropped this policy #main-fn4">4.
On the day following the conference, in brazen defiance of that conference's decision, Iemma announced that he intended to push on with privatisation, regardless#main-fn5">5.
Labor backbenchers opposed to the sale have vowed to vote in support of the conference decision of what decision is reached int NSW Labor Caucus meeting scheduled for Tuesday 6 May. In April, the NSW Labor Party president Bernie Riordan confirmed protection for any Labor MP who crossed the floor to uphold party policy. He said they would not be expelled or lose their endorsement#main-fn6">6.
However, the NSW Labor Party needs to go much further than protecting state MPs who chose to uphold the conference decision. Any state MP who votes, whether in Labor caucus or on the floor of Parliament, for privatisation, starting with Iemma and Costa, should be expelled immediately from the party and disendorsed and new candidates, willing to abide by decisions of the Labor Party conference, be endorsed in their places. If the Labor Party fails to do this, then democracy will be a dead letter in their organisation.
If they act with determination to clean out the Labor Party, there may be still hope that NSW electors could be persuaded to give their vote to a renovated state Labor party, answerable to ordinary members rather than powerful business lobbies, at the next state elections. Indeed, given the extremely poor standing of Iemma in the polls, and given the barely concealed indifference to the electoral fate of the Labor Party by the likes of Costa, who clearly is looking to a future career in the finance sector, such a measure would appear to be essential, in any case, if NSW Labor is to stand any hope of electoral survival.
However, the NSW Labor Party machine cannot be depended upon to do this unless rank and file Labor Party members, unionists and minor parties and community activists opposed to the sale must continue with their energetic campaign against privatisation.
#RoguesGallery" id="RoguesGallery">Appendix 1: A rogues' gallery of backers of NSW electricity privatisation
- Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
- Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan
- Labor state Premiers
- Jeff Kennett, former Liberal Premier of Victoria
- Former NSW Labor Premiers Bob Carr, Barrie Unsworth and Neville Wran
- Paul Keating, former Labor Prime Minister
- the NSW Business Chamber.
- Rupert Murdoch's Australian Newspaper
- The Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party
- Energy Users Association of Australia
#main-fn1" id="main-fn1">1. Watkins denies govt broke power promise, SMH 30 Apr 08; Not privatising, just giving control to private companies to run as they see fit for a century by Tim Dunlop, 30 Apr 08; Iemma told unions he would not privatise power sector, Daily Telegraph, 30 Apr 08#main-txt1">[back]
#main-fn3" id="main-fn3">3. Premier's power play, SMH 19 Apr 08 www.smh.com.au/text/articles/2008/04/19/1208025491879.html#main-txt3">[back]
#main-fn4" id="main-fn4">4. Citation needed. The Liberal Party, has not unexpectedly, become ambivalent on this question. However, if it does remain true to its past words, privatisation can be blocked in the NSW upper house with the support of minor parties and independents.#main-txt4">[back]
See also: NSW electricity links